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Balkan Report: May 21, 2004


21 May 2004, Volume 8, Number 17

DR. BUSEK'S BALKAN LIST. Austria's Erhard Busek, who heads the EU-led Stability Pact for Southeastern Europe, argued in the 18 May "Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung" that the EU should pay more attention to the western Balkans. Whether his recommendations can be easily carried out is another matter.

Busek's speeches and writings usually attract attention in the region and among outside experts because the Stability Pact is a clearinghouse for a wide variety of aid-development projects. Busek himself, moreover, is a senior Austrian political figure with years of experience in Balkan affairs.

His message is usually cautiously optimistic (see "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 10 October 2003). But in his latest commentary, he sets down a rather extensive agenda that suggests that he, like many others, feels that the western Balkans might be left behind by a Brussels more concerned with other issues, including possible Turkish EU membership and developing a EU foreign-policy profile in the Middle East (see "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 27 February 2004).

He notes that the eventual inclusion of Romania and Bulgaria in the EU will make the problems facing Albania, Bosnia, Croatia, Macedonia, and Serbia and Montenegro all the more important for the stability of Europe as a whole.

Busek's core argument is that "Europe should have priority for Europeans." This will go down well with those inside and outside Southeastern Europe who fear that at least part of the western Balkans is in danger of becoming the continent's black hole, with at least one failed state, unless more progress is made in promoting democracy and prosperity and in uprooting crime and corruption (see "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 14 June 2002 and 27 June, 8 August, and 12 December 2003).

He begins by pointing out that the western Balkans are not only geographically more important for the EU than is Turkey or the Middle East, but also more manageable as a set of problems to be tackled. Busek notes that all these countries taken together have less than half the population of Turkey.

The recent unrest in Kosova is a wake-up call, Busek argues (see "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 2 and 16 April 2004). He urges the development of an unspecified strategy to deal with the status issue while arguing, however, that much of the responsibility for the recent unrest lies with the Albanians, who must now bear some responsibility for their actions.

Busek also calls for offering the province an unspecified "perspective" that can be acceptable to both Prishtina and Belgrade, which, he continues, could also serve to offset Montenegrin aspirations for independence.

It is difficult to see what such a proposal might involve, since the Kosovar and Montenegrin political leaderships have rejected the idea of some sort of European integration package that would force them to maintain a political union with Belgrade.

Furthermore, Busek argues that the involvement of the UN and the United States in both Kosova and Bosnia makes it more difficult for the EU to propose solutions there. But any suggestion from Brussels that the United States leave the Balkans to the EU would not only raise some eyebrows in Washington, but would also be regarded as arrogance and interference by many in Prishtina and Sarajevo (see "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 19 December 2003 and 5 March 2004).

He nonetheless firmly rejects the idea that one sometimes hears in the Balkans that the EU should admit at least Bosnia and Kosova to membership now so that the problems there could be dealt with more easily. Busek points out that the Cyprus question has shown that EU membership or the prospect of it is not a cure-all.

Turning to Serbia, Busek stresses its overall "key role" in the peace and development of the region. He warns that a program for the stabilization of Serbia is a prerequisite for overall political and economic stability.

Croatia presents a brighter picture, he argues, offering at least as much potential for success as Romania and Bulgaria, provided that it cooperates fully with the Hague-based war crimes tribunal. Macedonia needs to improve its judicial system and reduce unemployment, while the outside world needs to pay more attention to Albania. Finally, Busek dismisses foreign fears of a greater Albania as "not realistic," urging that they best be forgotten. (Patrick Moore)

MACEDONIA HAS A NEW PRESIDENT, BUT NOT EVERYBODY IS HAPPY. In the second round of the Macedonian presidential election held on 28 April, Prime Minister Branko Crvenkovski of the Social Democratic Union (SDSM) scored a clear victory.

With the support of his coalition partners -- the ethnic Albanian Democratic Union for Integration (BDI) and the Liberal Democrats -- Crvenkovski garnered more than 62 percent of the vote. His opponent, Sasko Kedev of the opposition Internal Macedonian Revolutionary Organization (VMRO-DPMNE), won just over 37 percent.

The State Election Commission announced on 7 May that the elections were valid, since more than the required 50 percent of registered voters cast their ballots (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 29 and 30 April and 3 and 4 May 2004, and "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 16 April 2004). However, even on the eve of the election, Kedev and VMRO-DPMNE Chairman Nikola Gruevski announced that they would challenge the election results, alleging that irregularities were in the offing that would make the vote unfair and undemocratic.

Kedev responded to the early returns by accusing the governing parties of electoral fraud. He spoke of a "shameful act" and the "biggest falsification of elections in the history of independent Macedonia." Gruevski said the State Election Commission (DIK) should declare the elections invalid because of alleged gross manipulations and violence.

The opposition VMRO-DPMNE was not alone in criticizing the elections. In the opinion of the Macedonian Helsinki Committee, the elections were unfair and undemocratic because citizens' freedom to vote was allegedly seriously limited.

In a 29 April press release, observers of the OSCE's Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights said that the elections were "generally consistent with OSCE election related commitments," but they also noted irregularities. Ambassador Friedrich Bauer, who headed the election-observation mission, said the problems identified in the second round of the election were more extensive than in the first round. "Regrettably, the [DIK] rejected all the complaints received from the parties after the first round, regardless of merit. In so doing, the DIK missed an opportunity to send a message that such irregularities would not be tolerated," Bauer said, adding that, "in certain areas, serious incidents cast a shadow over the election."

The DIK, for its part, dismissed all complaints filed by the VMRO-DPMNE as unfounded. On 8 May, DIK Chairman Stevo Pendarovski presented Crvenkovski with the official document confirming his election victory. The VMRO-DPMNE, however, insisted on a recount of the election results and an independent review of the elections as a whole (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 12 May 2004).

When Crvenkovski was sworn in as president on 12 May, the VMRO-DPMNE, and its allies, the Liberal Party and the Democratic Party of the Albanians (PDSH), boycotted the ceremony. Skopje newspapers recalled that Crvenkovski's SDSM, too, boycotted the inauguration of late Boris Trajkovski in 1999 to protest what it then called "falsified election results."

However, the VMRO-DPMNE's boycott of the ceremony might also be the result of internal frictions within that party which emerged during the election campaign and which intensified after Kedev's defeat.

Until recently, the current, moderate VMRO-DPMNE leadership around Gruevski on the one hand, and the old, nationalist party elite led by former party Chairman and Prime Minister Ljubco Georgievski on the other, got along without major problems. However, a rift between these two wings emerged when the moderates nominated the relatively unknown Kedev as presidential candidate (see "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 9, 16, and 23 April 2004). In response, hawkish former Interior Minister Ljube Boskovski -- a close ally of Georgievski -- announced that he would run for president, too (see "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 19 March and 2 April 2004).

But Boskovski was barred from running for president by the DIK (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 29 March 2004). Boskovski interpreted that DIK ruling as the result of a conspiracy of the VMRO-DPMNE leadership and the governing SDSM. To "punish" Gruevski and Kedev for their "treason," he called on his followers to boycott the elections, claiming that the boycott was also endorsed by Georgievski (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 6 and 26 April 2004). q

In an effort to resolve the leadership crisis, Gruevski invited the VMRO-DPMNE's central committee to discuss the matter on 14 May, but that meeting was violently disrupted by Georgievski's followers (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 17 May 2004).

Given that a group of executive-committee members have condemned Gruevski's move to convene the body without discussing the agenda beforehand, Georgievski's followers might still succeed in removing Gruevski as party chairman.

Boskovski, for his part, has removed himself from the Macedonian scene. Facing arrest in connection with the killing of six Pakistanis and an Indian national in 2002, he has reportedly fled to Croatia (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 3, 5, 10, and 11 May 2004). (Ulrich Buechsenschuetz, ub@itinerarium.de)

SLOVENIA ORIENTS ITSELF AFTER EU ACCESSION. On the eve of the country's entry into the European Union, Slovenian radio wished its listeners a "gentle landing" in Europe. The sentiment was understandable for a small country that had successfully gone it alone for over a decade following a millennium of other unions -- from 10th-century Germanic feudalism to 20th-century Yugoslav communism.

A joke current in Slovenia plays on the traditional mistrust of alliances: the future EU gradually expands to include all of Europe, and EU bureaucracy eventually becomes centralized in the Balkan member states. One by one, the EU members then withdraw from the union, until only the former Yugoslav states remain bound together under a Belgrade-based administration.

Humor aside, international surveys of public support for the EU consistently rank Slovenes among the most enthusiastic. On 12 May, Slovenia's National Assembly adopted four post-accession priorities: successful integration into the EU, adoption of the euro by 2007, establishment of a Schengen border regime, and access to cohesion and structural funds. At the same time, Slovenia is reassessing its relations with other countries inside and outside the EU.

In the short run, accession has probably most affected relations with Croatia. New border controls mean that fish trucked from Istria to the Italian market must be routed eastward through the Brezice border crossing near Zagreb, decreasing both the freshness and market price of the catch. Croatians grumble that the detour is Slovenia's revenge for Croatia's recalcitrance on resolving outstanding issues between the two countries, including a dispute over the Bay of Piran and Croatia's declaration of a restricted fishing zone in the Adriatic Sea (see "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 13 September 2002 and 17 October 2003). Other border delays have led to Croatian charges that Slovenia was poorly prepared for EU entry, "Delo" reported on 9 May.

Slovenia had to abandon free-trade agreements with other former Yugoslav states following accession but hopes to retain these markets through strength of brand recognition (see "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 30 January 2004).

After accession, Slovenia coupled economics with politics by asserting its hope that other countries of southeast Europe might soon join the union. Speaker of the parliament Borut Pahor echoed this sentiment at a 10 May meeting of parliamentary speakers from Albania, Bosnia-Herzegovina, and other Balkan states in the coastal town of Portoroz.

Other east European states will also see tangible effects from Slovenia's EU membership. The thought that there could be a large influx of workers from Slovakia, the Czech Republic, and Poland caused Slovenia to register such workers even though they are not required to obtain work permits. Three weeks on, there is no sign of such a labor migration, and Slovenia's foreign workforce is likely to remain 90 percent ex-Yugoslav (in comparison, 1.4 and 1.9 percent of foreign workers come from new and old EU member states, respectively).

In the meantime, the Slovenian presence elsewhere in the east is likely to increase. Emblematic of such changes was the 12 May opening of an $83 million plant in Poland by the pharmaceutical company Lek, which will employ 300 workers.

Looking westward, conventional wisdom held that citizens of the new EU countries would board busses on 1 May, eager to take advantage of high-paying jobs and generous welfare programs. The English tabloids were perhaps most alarmist, warning of hoards of newcomers eager to exploit the British social-benefits system.

Coupled with this xenophobia was a corresponding measure of ignorance. A leading British broadcaster ran an article on 1 May profiling a "Miroslava Sopkova" who ostensibly came from Slovenia to seek her fortune in the United Kingdom. Not only is the lady's name not Slovenian, but the article goes on to describe how she arrived on "the Bratislava bus."

Despite the talk about not creating a "second-class" tier within the EU, it is hard for the newcomers not to feel slighted by the continued restrictions on free movement of labor. A government brochure distributed to Slovenes in late April reminded them that EU membership does not end labor restrictions on working in the old EU states. And the fact that Austria and Germany, for example, have waived work permits for citizens of the new member states seeking to clean buildings or maintain public parks only adds insult to injury.

Theoretically, restrictions on labor could be in place until 2011. However, Slovenian Labor Minister Vlado Dimovski announced at a forum on cohesion policy in Brussels on 10 May that he believes such restrictions will be lifted within two years.

Until then, the principle of reciprocity will mean that citizens of old EU member states will also continue to need permits to work in Slovenia. However, old EU members need not feel completely shut out from working in Slovenia without restriction. After all, the principle of reciprocity now offers Austrians and Germans unlimited rights to sweep up after Slovenian office parties or mow the grass in Ljubljana's parks. (Donald F. Reindl, dreindl@indiana.edu)

A WESTERN MOVE AWAY FROM BALKAN INTEGRATION? After discussions with his visiting Serbian counterpart Vojislav Kostunica, Romanian Prime Minister Adrian Nastase said on 17 May that the two countries' ambassadors to the EU will soon discuss with the EU measures to ease the visa requirements Romania must impose on Serbia and Montenegro to comply with EU-accession requirements, Mediafax reported. Kostunica said that a "more flexible" visa regime would favor bilateral relations.

Romania has pledged to impose visa restrictions on Serbia and Montenegro as well as Ukraine this year. It is to impose similar restrictions on Moldova by the time Romania accedes to the EU, for which it has received a target date of 2007.

The two prime ministers also discussed ways of protecting the Romanian and Serbian minorities in their respective countries. Joint economic projects were also discussed, including an oil pipeline that would run from the Black Sea port of Constanta to Italy, a highway from the western Romanian city of Timisoara to Belgrade, and extending railway lines. Kostunica also met with President Ion Iliescu.

But it was probably the visa issue that attracted the most attention. This is because many Serbs deeply resent the fact that they already need visas to travel to most European countries after long years of visa-free travel in socialist Yugoslav times.

It is also somewhat ironic that Romania must introduce visa requirements as a result of policies set in Brussels. One need only recall that representatives of the international community have been telling the Balkan countries for years that they need to do more to promote regional integration and cooperation. (Zsolt Mato and Patrick Moore)

QUOTATIONS OF THE WEEK: "Central Europe in a united Europe [must] be democratic in the original spirit of [the late Czechoslovak President Tomas Garrigue] Masaryk: no one may have a leading role here, no one may be excluded from joint decision-making, no one [can be made] to stand outside a slammed door." -- Czech Senate chairman Petr Pithart. Quoted by CTK on 17 May.

"[New EU commissioners] will find a demoralized, scandal-plagued bunch of bureaucrats, unable even to produce halfway respectable office accounts, a culture so hostile to accountability and justice that whistle-blowers are always penalized, but malefactors almost never.... Signor Prodi's successor is being picked in the same secretive, amateurish way that has repeatedly saddled the EU with incompetents or worse.... To coin a phrase, 'Europe isn't working.' Nor will it, so long as it chooses its top officials by North Korean methods." -- Rosemary Righter in London's "The Times" of 20 May.

"There is no such thing as an old Europe and a new Europe. There is one Europe, and we have to look after it." -- German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder, on the stump for the European Parliament elections. Quoted in "The Guardian" of 20 May. His party trails the opposition CDU-CSU in the polls by a two-to-one margin, and he has sought to boost its popularity by stressing his views on the Iraq conflict.

"That's good for us." -- Schroeder to French President Jacques Chirac, apparently forgetting that his microphone was still on, in reference to Germany's Basic Law's ruling out a referendum such as British Prime Minister Tony Blair wants to hold on the proposed European constitution. Quoted in the "International Herald Tribune" of 18 May.

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